What doesn’t kill you, gym teachers and other sadists say, makes you stronger.
Then again, what happens if the killing actually is the thing that makes you stronger?
Like what if the zombie you is the better you?
Ask the beautiful animated corpse of Hey Ocean!.
The popular West Coast Canadian trio of Ashleigh Ball, David Buckingham and David Vertesi are currently in The Walking Dead phase of their career and they couldn’t be loving it more, couldn’t be stronger as a band.
For a decade the dream-pop threesome built a sound, built a following, built a reputation in the music industry — beloved by fans, critics and radio programmers alike, earning Juno nominations, charting singles aplenty and making their way to the top of the CanCon food change.
And then, well, then they unceremoniously put a samurai sword through Hey Ocean!’s skull.
“We all just kind of needed a break from everything — including each other probably,” the honey-toned Ball explains simply and laughs.
It wasn’t done, though, without a heavy-heart or full knowledge of what they were doing, what they were giving up.
After all they’d accomplished together since forming 14 years ago, they knew it was something they would miss, but something that needed to be done before they were merely going through the motions, doing it for all of the wrong reasons.
“It felt like a — it was definitely a breakup when we decided not to be a band any more,” Ball says.
“It was definitely a hard decision with lots of emotion, lots of tears on my part, but in the end it was the right decision for all of us to take a step back from the thing that we were focussing the most on in our lives.
“When it was time for us to write a new album … there was no excitement about new music, it was like, ‘Oh, we have to do this, this is our job.’ It didn’t feel like it had a flow to it or the positivity was there, so it was a wise choice …
“Overall, it’s what we needed to do to make the band stay alive in the long run.”
And stronger — as anyone who’s heard the trio’s comeback-esque album The Hurt of Happiness will tell you.
It’s a sweet, trippy, blippy dose of electro-love that finds them more focussed, more confident and more mature than on any of their previous three albums.
And Ball says much of that is owed to the three-year dirt-nap-turned-hiatus the members took to “focus on other things in life other than Hey Ocean!.”
For her, that included returning to her other vocal talents — Ball is a voice actress known for her work on animated shows such My Little Pony (as you can see documented in the film A Brony Tale, which explores the, erm, not-at-all creepy subculture of grown men who dig a little too much the series about rainbow equines).
She, as well as her former/current bandmates also worked on some solo projects, Ball releasing the EP Gold last year.
But the pull back to Hey Ocean! was strong, with some of the material she recorded with one of her former Davids, Vertesi, being a little too close to home, or, rather, pointing her way back home.
“It was this weird feeling I had, like, ‘I can’t put this out, this doesn’t feel right.’ I kind of shelved that not knowing what to do with it, and then when we all talked about coming back to the band we re-approached some of those songs … So a couple of those songs ended up on the album. And some of them also were songs we’d been working on before the breakup …
“We all had these nuggets of Hey Ocean! songs that really didn’t feel like they belonged anywhere else except on that album with Hey Ocean!.”
But the true test was getting together in a room and creating as one. It was, on paper, something of a challenge, with a band featuring three songwriters, three distinct voices having gone their own ways and now coming back to where it all began.
Ball, though, says it was almost immediate and “organic” to write with one another again.
“When we finally sat down to do it, it felt so easy … It was like, I don’t know, having sex with an ex or something,” she says and laughs again. “It was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re really good at this, we can do this.’ ”
The title track The Hurt of Happiness was the first one of those “ex sex” songs, written after only a couple hours together in her apartment, with the rest of the record completed with what she says was the same amount of ease and sounding the same.
The only question, really, remained whether or not an industry or fans with a notoriously short attention span would welcome them back after that three-year shutdown.
Ball says any questions about that were answered at this same time last year when they dipped their toes back into Hey Ocean! with a well-received An Evening With … reunion/reanimation tour.
“It was really scary for me personally because I didn’t think people would remember, I felt like we weren’t relevant any more or people wouldn’t care,” she says.
“But it was really wonderful to see the people coming out, the people who had missed us. We do have a lot of awesome, amazing fans who had been waiting for us to return. Although it was a very exhausting tour it was a very satisfying one as well.”
And the response to the new album and current tour, which brings them to the Commonwealth Wednesday, Nov. 21 and is also to celebrate the 10th anniversary reissue of their sophomore album It’s Easier to Be Somebody Else, has only reaffirmed the belief that they did the right thing in returning — albeit returning refreshed, with lessons learned and a new outlook on life, or the afterlife, in Hey Ocean!.
“We’ve been giving ourselves time, where we didn’t before, we’re very aware of times that we need to focus on our lives that isn’t the band, because I think that’s just really healthy …
“But I think right now we’re all writing and I think we just need to find the time to come together and feel that magic again.”
She continues. “For me, right now, I feel like I want to keep pushing forward because, I don’t know, maybe at the beginning of our band I felt this immortality, like, ‘It’s OK, we can do this forever,’ and now I’m like, ‘Oh,’ ” she says.
“I don’t want to take it so lightly any more, I really want to make work that I’m really proud of — I think we all feel that. There’s a bit more heaviness, but I just want to bring more to the music so that I’m not taking this all for granted.”
Hey Ocean! perform Wednesday, Nov. 21 at Commonwealth Bar and Stage.